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How to Heat a Barn: A Guide for Consumers

Like any industrial or commercial space, barns present their own unique set of heating requirements, and special consideration is needed before the proper heat source can be chosen. This is especially true since barns can hold living creatures, your livestock.

A heater that is good for your home isn’t necessarily good for your barn, because of the barn’s different size, material construction, layout and infrastructure. An undersized heater can lead to discomfort, poor health, or even deaths during the cold season for your animals. On the other hand, an oversized heater can lead to energy wastage and unnecessarily high utility costs.

Then there’s the safety aspect. Each year over half a million barn animals are killed in barn fires, with the majority of cases concentrated in cold northeastern states. We at Total Home Supply are committed to helping our customers choose only the best possible heaters for different applications, and this post is designed to help you consider everything you need to know about barn heating, as well as how to choose the best heater for your barn.

Barn Heating Basics

Livestock

If you use your barn to keep livestock, the most important factor in barn heating is the health and safety of your animals. Many cattle animals are fairly resistant to colder temperatures, and too much supplemental heat can actually be detrimental to their health. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the optimum core body temperature for livestock is within a 2°C to 3°C range. Any deviation excess of this range can cause disruptions that can impact an animal’s ability to produce meat, milk, or eggs. Temperature deviations of 5°C to 7°C often result in death.

To properly determine whether a supplemental heat source is the right choice, you need to consider the average winter temperatures in your region, as well as the types of the animals you keep.

Most large farm animals such as horses, cows, sheep, pigs, and mules do just fine in cold weather, but if you live in a region where the temperature regularly dips below 30-35º F, you may want to consider livestock heaters, even to use sparingly in cases of intense cold fronts. 

Below are the optimum temperatures for the two major types of livestock: cows and swine, based on a Purdue University study:

livestock heating temperatures

Smaller animals such as chickens, rabbits, dogs, and cats need slightly more heat, and a supplemental heating source should be considered in regions where the temperature regularly dips and stays below 40º F.

As a general rule, most farm animals (except for the very young) have an optimum temperature range of 60-70º F.

All farm animals should be monitored closely during winter to make sure they aren’t losing weight or suffering other health problems as a result of cold stress.

Barn Areas that Need Heating

Even if you determine that stalls don’t require supplemental heat, it doesn’t mean that other parts of your barn can do without heating. Sick, injured, or young animals need to be kept sufficiently warm, so your vet room or quarantine area has to have a heating source.

Another barn area that requires heating is the water tank, to keep the animals’ water supply from freezing. 

If you keep dairy cows, you may also want to heat your milking room. 

Recommended Heaters for Livestock Barns

The absolute best heating option for livestock barns is an infrared/radiant gas heater.

Radiant technology works much like the heat from the sun, warming people, animals, and objects (including floors and walls) as opposed to the air. Infrared heaters do not blow heat (though many come equipped with a blower, but the use of it is entirely optional), so the air inside the barn won’t become overly dry or suffocating. Because it mimics natural, solar heat energy, radiant heat is actually soothing to animals, which may also help combat the seasonal depression common in several species (including humans).

Radiant heat can also be directed at certain objects or areas, so you can choose exactly what parts of your barn get heated and which do not. This is especially useful, for example, for nursing sick or injured animals, as radiant heat can be directed at one, single stall without disrupting the others around it.

Infrared gas heaters are safe to use and are usually lightweight enough to be moved around to accommodate extra heat as the need for it arises. Radiant heaters are not vented, but because infrared units heat objects, not air, they work well with your barn’s existing ventilation system, for clean air without the loss of heat.

If your barn is not for keeping livestock, there is slightly less you need to consider when seeking a heating solution for your space. Many people use their barns for storage or workshop purposes only, and so the primary concern in these cases is keeping your tools in tip-top shape throughout the cold winter temps.

Empire Comfort Systems SR-30TW Vent Free 30000 BTU Infrared/Radiant Gas Heater with Thermostat Control

Perfect for heating large areas, the SR30TW quickly fills the room with 30,000 BTU of warmth at the touch of a button. It has a hydraulic thermostat with top mounted controls for easy operation, and the push button igniter eliminates the need for matches.

The heater is available in natural gas or liquid propane versions.

Empire Comfort Systems SR-30TW Vent Free 30000 BTU Infrared/Radiant Gas Heater with Thermostat Control
Price: $1,009.00 Empire Comfort Systems SR-30TW Vent Free 30000 BTU Infrared/Radiant Gas Heater with Thermostat Control

Perfect for heating large areas, the SR30TW quickly fills the room with 30,000 BTU of warmth at the touch of a button. The SR-30TW has a hydraulic thermostat ...

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Equipment

Not all barns are used to house livestock. Some are used to store equipment, which may have their own heating requirements.

One such area is the barn’s tack room. A heater keeps equipment from suffering damages or cracks in cold weather. It also allows you to work comfortably even in the dead of winter.

Most tools do just fine in cold weather so long as they have time to warm up before you use them. Manual tools can crack or snap if they become too frigid, and power tools can be strained if used without proper time to heat up. Proper storage of your tools can act as a bit of insulation to prevent your tools from getting too cold, but you’re still going to want to consider an extra heat source to make the inside of your storage space or workshop better for your tools and, of course, more comfortable for you.

Recommended Heaters for Storage Barns

UDAP heaters are great at heating large, industrial spaces, making them a perfect choice for barns used for storage and workshop purposes. UDAP units are gas-powered and, unlike infrared heaters, work to heat the indoor air first, for fast, effective heating that lets you utilize your space quicker and more comfortably than if you were to use a regular space heater.

The two main concerns of users interested in this sort of heater usually have are 1) accommodating the unit’s size, and 2) the cost of operation. Industrial heaters are on the whole larger than other heaters, it’s true, but the Reznor UDAP units conveniently suspend from the ceiling, leaving all wall and floor space free for storage purposes. These units are also designed to operate at 83% thermal efficiency, meaning they cost significantly less to operate than other heaters of the same size and capabilities.

If you use your barn to store equipment only, consider a Reznor industrial heater.

Reznor UDX-100 105,000 BTU Power Vented Gas Fired Unit Heater

Offering an industry leading 82% thermal efficiency and a variety of different BTUs, the UDX series of heaters offer exceptional heat performance for areas both large and small.

These Reznor Heaters are easy to install, secured in place from 2 or 4 suspension points or by an optional hanger kit that allows for ceiling mounting. Thermostat setup is quick, with a low-voltage terminal strip on the outside of the cabinet that makes connecting control wiring simple with no panels to remove. The factory installed gas line input is located on the backside of the unit heater making the gas connection simple.

Reznor has made improvements to their UDX heaters for better performance and quality of use. Features include Reznor’s patented TCore² titanium stabilized aluminized steel heat exchanger, as well as the  “G” terminal to the strip and a newly designed circuit board, which allows for fan-only operation without adding relays.

DISCONTINUEDReznor UDX-100 105,000 BTU Power Vented Gas Fired Unit Heater
Price: $1,449.00 DISCONTINUEDReznor UDX-100 105,000 BTU Power Vented Gas Fired Unit Heater

For a long time Reznor has been providing the best heaters for a variety of applications. Reznor has improved their already industry leading technologies with...

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How to Heat a Barn

Once you’ve established if and where you would like to install a barn heater, the next step is determining how to do it.

1. Insulate it.

The single best thing you can do for your barn — any barn — is make sure it is properly insulated. Most modern American barns are of steel construction, which on its own offers no insulation. Steel can also get very cold to very hot, increasing the likelihood of condensation build-up. Condensation and humidity can damage your supplies and the infrastructure of your barn over time, as well as pose dangerous health risks to your animals due to added moisture in the air and on walls, floors, and bedding. Condensation and humidity resulting from huge swings in temperature can also cause your tools and supplies to rust. Insulation can help steady your barn’s indoor temperature, making condensation build-up much less likely, as well as keep your barn warmer, in general, in the wintertime.

Spray foam insulation is the favorite choice for steel-sided barns, as it works 50% more effectively at steadying indoor air temperatures, thus eliminating the need for a vapor barrier to control condensation and humidity. For best results, make sure your insulation is 4″ – 6″ thick, depending on how severe your region’s winters are, on average.

For regions that experience more moderate winters, a few inches of insulation may be just enough to get you through to the spring. Colder regions, however, will still want to consider a supplemental heating unit for their barn.

2. Choose a correctly sized heater.

Any of the infrared/radiant heaters and unit heaters listed on our website would be a fantastic choice for your barn. The only thing left to consider is exactly what size you need to best accommodate your space.

Size is determined by BTU rating, which we have written about before in regards to air conditioners, and the same basic rules apply to heating BTUs — the larger the space, the more BTUs are required. We offer infrared heaters featuring 10,000 – 30,000 BTUs, which accommodate spaces 300 – 1,000 square feet in size, respectively, and unit heaters featuring 30,000 – 400,000 BTUs, for any space over 1,000 square feet.

Pole Barn Heaters

Pole barns are structures built with wooden posts that are buried directly into the ground. Unlike standard barns, pole barns do not have any kind of foundation — they either have a basic concrete floor or a dirt floor.

Pole barns are typically used for storing equipment such as tractors, lawnmowers and combines. They also work well as workshops.

Like standard barns, pole barns in themselves do not offer much insulation. Therefore, the first step to heating your pole barn is to insulate it with fiberglass, foam or cellulose.

If you’re looking to add heat to your pole barn, we always recommend the unit heaters . As mentioned above, these heaters work by heating the actual air in the barn versus just the objects in the barn, allowing you to enjoy efficient and effective heat.

Next Steps

If you’re interested in heating your barn but you’re still unsure which heater is best for your needs, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our resident heating specialists. We’ll help you size and shop for the right barn heating option to keep your space comfortable all season long.

Kristen Turner

Featured blogger for Total Home Supply.

6 thoughts on “How to Heat a Barn: A Guide for Consumers”

  1. Richard Thomas says:

    I would like some advise on heating our barn. We have two horses with 12 by 12 foot stalls. We do not have natural gas so electric seems to be the only option. What do you suggest?

  2. Adelaida Valdez says:

    Hi we need some advice to heat our barn, we are in Virginia, the size is 2,400 sq with 10 stalls with horses we have electricity in our barn

  3. Chuck Pauley says:

    I interested in the most efficient way of heating my pole barn located in the mountains of Idaho. I’m insulating with foam. I will be storing my vintage car collection in this space so I need to have a controlled environment. Suggestions?

  4. Cheryl Saunders says:

    Hi
    We are starting a barn Venue in a historical wooden barn in Wisconsin.
    Is it possible to use infrared heaters like outside eateries have on their patios?

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